West Ham rolls into Toronto a week from today to take on the best eleven players that MLS has to offer. This is the fourth time that the MLS All-Stars will take on foreign competition in this game, and are 3-0 so far.
West Ham brings a very competent team to the table. Lucas Neill, Freddie Ljungberg, Dean Ashton (pictured above), Craig Bellamy and American Jonathan Spector all figure to play a role. Despite being a perennial mid-table finisher since their promotion from the Championship in the 2005-2006 season, West Ham have European experience. With all of these factors, they can be a very dangerous team.
The London-based West Ham also boast some famous fans. Barack Obama, John Cleese, Iron Maiden founder Steve Harris, Dean Thomas (Harry Potter) and Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap all support West Ham.
The MLS XI will not take their opponents lightly, but will be approaching the match with a lot of confidence. In 2005, MLS thrashed Fulham, 4-1. Celtic suffered a 2-0 defeat in 2006, and last season, the defending Premier League champions Chelsea were shut out 1-0.
These results may surprise some who don't really follow MLS. Fulham is not a great team, but Celtic and Chelsea play in European competitions every season.
Really, they shouldn't be that surprising. The MLS All-Star Game is held in the middle of the MLS season every year, when the players are at the top of their game. The European clubs are just beginning their preseason training after a month or two without regular competition.
Remember three years ago when MLS sent a squad to the Santiago Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid? That was at the very end of Madrid's preseason, and Los Merengues tore the MLS team apart, 5-0. It's hard to beat a team of Real Madrid's caliber when they are clicking on all cylinders like they were after a six week preseason.
But West Ham is decidedly NOT Real Madrid, no matter how much preseason work they put in. They are not Chelsea, or even Celtic. They're a mid-table Premier League team who will occasionally compete for a UEFA Cup slot or an FA or Carling Cup trophy.
They have some very talented players, but can not match the quality that the MLS XI will have at each position. The fact that West Ham recently did the league "double" over Arsenal and Manchester United (two 1-0 victories over each in the same season) will not matter.
You can expect a very physical game, with a fast pace. Both MLS and the EPL are very physical leagues, and nobody in this game will shy away from a tackle. The fitness of MLS will be on full display.
Cuauhtemoc Blanco and David Beckham are both still incredibly capable and creative playmakers. West Ham will undoubtedly have some trouble dealing with both of them. Come to think of it, in the Chicago Fire games I've seen this season, I can't recall anybody managing to dispossess Blanco.
The Toronto crowd can also not be underestimated. Toronto FC has the best home crowds in all of MLS without a doubt. The city will be very excited to see all of this MLS talent on display against an established Premier League club. If the All-Star team featured more than just a lone Toronto player on the bench, the crowd would be an even bigger factor.
West Ham will also not be used to playing in the summer heat of North America. The MLS season runs during the hottest months of the year, so the MLS XI will be ready for the high temperatures. The foreign clubs definitely notice the heat, and probably begin to tire earlier than they normally would.
The Hammers will not write this off as a meaningless match, because it will be some valuable preseason training, but in the end, the MLS team will prove to be too much.
Final score: MLS 3-1 West Ham